The Song of Sway Lake

More nostalgia for a time that never really existed.

Set in 1992, Ari Gold’s The Song of Sway Lake is a film about nostalgia and reverence for the past that tends to neglect its present. After the suicide of his record-collector father, greasy-haired Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) and his sketchy Russian pal Nikolai (Robert Sheehan) travel to Ollie’s family’s house on a lake that also bears his surname, intent on burgling the rare 78 rpm record of a song that’s also the title of the film.

Things are complicated by the arrival of Ollie’s grandmother Charlie (Mary Beth Peil), whom Nikolai begins to seduce, while Ollie begins to stalk toothsome townie Isadora (Isabelle McNally). Though it’s beautifully shot and has an ASMR-level reverence for the crackling sound of 78 rpm records, The Song of Sway Lake is a heist film with no sense of urgency. The McGuffin just sits there for long stretches, character motivations are always a bit fuzzy, and the way Isadora is written might have made more sense had the film been made in 1992. It also says a lot about how much hasn’t changed that in her final screen role before her untimely death, the great Elizabeth Peña plays a domestic servant who lives in fear of being capriciously fired. Her song deserved a better ending. 

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.

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